Befuddling City Response to Measure M Kerfuffle Raises Concern of Brown Act Violation

A confusing internal memo released by the City Clerk’s office raises troubling concerns of whether the City Council violated the Brown Act in deciding whether to approve joining a lawsuit challenging the ballot language of Measure M.

The memo dated September 7, 2016 is signed by City Attorney John Fellows and was written to the City Clerk. The contents of the memo contradict previous information provided to the public by the City Clerk’s office. In the memo, Fellows asserts the City Council approved the Measure M lawsuit in closed session at the July 26, 2016 meeting. In a prior communication, the City Clerk had provided minutes from the June 28, 2016 meeting as evidence of the City Council’s approval.

The contents of the memo are captured in full below:

On July 26, 2016, the Torrance City Council met in Closed Session under Council Agenda Item 14(c) to discuss anticipated litigation between Torrance and a number of other South Bay cities as plaintiffs and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority as defendant. By a 6-0 affirmative vote (Councilman Rizzo absent), the Council authorized staff to participate in work on joint educational outreach concerning the Measure and to join in a lawsuit with other South Bay cities challenging the language of the Measure.  Final action was not taken that evening by the Torrance City Council, since the makeup of cities who would participate in the lawsuit was not clear at the time, nor had cost-sharing or non-disclosure agreements been finalized.  The lawsuit was filed on August 26, 2016. The filing of the lawsuit was reported in the Daily Breeze on August 29.  In response to the Daily Breeze report, the City Clerk received an inquiry on September 06, asking when the City Council met and approved participation in the Measure M litigation.  The City Council did not meet on either August 30 or September 6, so there was no opportunity to announce publicly the Council’s action of July 26.

With final action now having occurred and a request for disclosure having been made, pursuant to California Government Code Section 54957.1(a)(2), the City is now required to make the public disclosure outlined above.

In the memo, Fellows first indicates that the matter was discussed at July 26 meeting, but that final action was not taken. Oddly, later in the same memo he acknowledges that final action did occur. He also claims that the action taken at the meeting was not disclosed because there was no opportunity to do so.

California Government Code Section 54957, otherwise known as the Brown Act, requires that approval given to legal counsel to enter into litigation during closed session “shall be reported in open session at the public meeting during which the closed session is held.” No such disclosure was made at the July 26, 2016 meeting. In fact, the minutes from that meeting indicate that, “No formal action was taken on any matter considered in closed session.” The video from that meeting corroborates the statement from the minutes.

Fellows conflicting memo raises the question of why whatever action taken by the Council at the July 26 meeting was not disclosed at that same meeting to the public per the Brown Act. If “final” action did not occur at that meeting, as Fellows at one point infers, when did it occur? To meet the Brown Act requirements, the Council would have had to meet again either in closed or open session to take additional action on the issue from what was approved at the July 26 meeting.

It appears from the record that such subsequent approval on the final action taken was neither discussed or provided.

9 comments

  • Arthur J Plourde

    Hello Torrance Residents:( We have a very sad and most undisciplined bunch of leaders now in our city! This includes the City Attorney who fails to get the Council advice within the laws of the State of CA on matters before them. His inability to counsel the Council Members regarding their actions on issues at hand has now caused another fiasco for this city and it’s citizens. When oh When with this inability to operate within the statutes and the law ever come to a screeching halt. Does anyone else in this city think it is time to IMPEACH, and RECALL persons within the positions of Authority of the City of Torrance. Personally, I think that time was long ago, and now it is time for the citizens of Torrance to demand better of the leadership of the city. Enough is Enough!! Are you ready to sign on to having these chairs vacated and having a special election to seat people of Principle, Values, Ethics, Honesty, Scruples, Morals, and who know how to follow laws! Torrance needs a major shift, and new leadership now! Let’s hear what you have to say!

    • Linda Gottshall-Sayed

      here, here, Arthur! I am with u. I press for principles, values, ethics, honesty and morals and, it goes without saying, cannot tolerate those who break the law. As we all know, the mayor’s chair needs changing. There are several councilmembers who have remained silent on the recent issues this year regarding lack of transparency, honesty and scruples by our Mayor and his son. Those character flaws are not erased by a simple resignation, or a shell game to confuse the FPPC so that our mayor could have McCormick Ambulance (our 911 medical provider) pay the FPPC fine that was levied on HIM.

      As for the compensation package John Fellows receives, I can only comment that he has provided this city excellent service for many years. I am not sure when he first took the post, but he was our City Attorney when I moved here in 1999. His duties are many and, as our City Attorney, he supervises all other attorneys prosecuting cases. I know this: I could not do what he does. That salary for an attorney with over 30 years of experience hardly seems enough. He isn’t paid “by the hour” as private practice attorneys are … he must work until the work gets done. Since it appears to be in line with other similar cities, I wouldn’t quibble about it.

  • Larry the ..

    oh lets not forgot what the City Attorney gets paid…and still contracts out lots of cases…Check his salary and compare it other cities the same same..

    • Anonymous

      I did your comparison, and the salary for the Torrance city attorney for 2015 with total benefits and compensation was $375,766

      Going down two cities by population you get these salaries with total benefits and compensation for 2015:

      Pasadena: $319,590
      Orange: $321,470

      Going up two cities by population you get these salaries with total benefits and compensation for 2015:

      Escondido: $521,204
      Sunnyvale: $369,291

      So really, his salary is not that far out of the range for comparably sized cities. But if I lived in Escondido, I would want to know what’s going on there.

      • Anonymous

        Total benefits and compensation is not necessarily a good comparison because you are not always comparing apples to apples. For example, a person could cash in a bunch of unused PTO days in one year that could bump up their total compensation for that one year only. Something like that could account (not saying that it does) for the big number you see in Escondido for example.

        If you go by salary only the comparison of the cities you listed looks like this:

        Torrance: $280K
        Pasadena: $239K
        Orange: $217K
        Escondido: $252K
        Sunnyvale: $222K

        Data on Transparent California shows that only three California Cities compensate their City Attorney in terms of salary more highly than Torrance (Santa Monica: $316K, Long Beach: $281K, and Fremont: $280K).

        • Arthur J Plourde

          Wonderful so now we know how much $$$ is wastefully spent out of the taxpayers pockets on an imcompetent person who is way over paid and should be sanctioned by the Lawyers Association over his inept capacity to counsel the city Government of this city and the officers of such about matters pertaining to right and wrong. Why this clown doesn’t even think that Heidi comitted a violation of the Brown ACT when she sent out a strong opinionated message to the Entire Council and others prior to a decision being voted on at a Council meeting in Torrance in public in 2015. This is just yet another reason why the city, and the treasury of such needs to have an audit, and be scrutinized as deeply as necessary to assure full and complete integrity, honesty, and service to the citizens of torrance and not to themselves. Have you had enough of this neopotism, favoritism, and more!

  • Linda Gottshall-Sayed

    Heidi Ashcraft has said many intelligent things since she has been elected. So, YES, she has. She speaks at hearly every meeting since she has been elected and I haven’t heard her say anything unintelligent. Who are you? Why would you leave such an incendiary rhetorical question like that when the topic is whether or not the Brown Act has been violated (and not by her). Really, who are you?

  • Arthur J Plourde

    @Linda Gottshall-Sayed, What makes you state the following, “I haven’t heard her say anything unintelligent. Who are you? Why would you leave such an incendiary rhetorical question like that when the topic is whether or not the Brown Act has been violated (and not by her).

    Fact Check! Heidi Ashcroft did in fact violate the “CA Brown Act” prior to a Council Meeting back in 2015, and Clint Paulson in his comments on that evening attempted to address this to the Council and the Mayor deferred to the City Attorney, and the City Attorney stated he did not see it as a Violation of the Brown Act although in reality the offense by Mrs Ashcroft was an E mail circulated prior to a City Council meeting in Aprilthat was concerning an agenda item to be considered by Council that night at the meeting in which she communicated personal feelings about the item to be discussed and sent it not only to the entire Council but to other specific portions of the city as well which were not clearly identified when challenged. I was there along with Clint and we both can testify to this. It is also on record in the video of the particular meeting where this occurred. So sorry you are definitely wrong about Heidi Ashcroft!

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